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Defining and Measuring the Digital Economy

Working Paper 

Kevin Barefoot, Dave Curtis, William Jolliff, Jessica R. Nicholson, Robert Omohundro 

This paper, made possible by support from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications 
and Information Administration (NTIA), describes the work of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to 
develop estimates towards the construction of a new digital economy satellite account. These estimates 
are the first step to a comprehensive measure of the contribution of the digital economy to gross 
domestic product (GDP). BEA’s GDP statistics include economic activity associated with the digital 
economy, but they do not allow data users to separately identify the contribution of the digital economy 
to economic growth. These new estimates complement the official statistics by providing a targeted 
picture of the role of the digital economy in the overall U.S. economy. 

BEA constructed the estimates presented in this paper within a supply‐use framework following a three‐
step process.  First, BEA developed a conceptual definition of the digital economy. Second, BEA 
identified specific goods and services categories within BEA’s supply‐use framework relevant to 
measuring the digital economy.  Third, BEA used the supply‐use framework to identify the industries 
responsible for producing these goods and services, and estimated output, value added, employment, 
compensation, and other variables for these industries. 

This report presents BEA’s initial work to lay the foundation for a digital economy satellite account. 
Conceptually, a digital economy satellite account should include all goods and services related to the 
digital economy. However, the preliminary estimates presented here are based on goods and services 
that are primarily digital. There are numerous challenges to estimating the economic contribution of 
“partially‐digital” goods and services which are laid out in this report. These challenges are opportunities 
for future research to expand these early estimates into a complete digital economy satellite account.  

From 2006 to 2016, BEA estimates that digital economy real value added grew at an average annual rate 
of 5.6 percent, outpacing the average annual rate of growth for the overall economy of 1.5 percent. In 
2016, the digital economy was a notable contributor to the overall economy—it accounted for 6.5 
percent of current‐dollar GDP, 6.2 percent of current‐dollar gross output, 3.9 percent of employment, 
and 6.7 percent of employee compensation.  

Author information: 

Kevin Barefoot 
Dave Curtis 
William Jolliff 
Jessica R. Nicholson 
Robert Omohundro 

This document is a working paper and shares preliminary knowledge and statistics.  The goal of the 
paper is to elicit feedback. The views expressed in this presentation are those of the authors and do not 
necessarily reflect the opinions of BEA or NTIA.


With the rapid growth of the internet starting in the mid‐1990s, the digital landscape has expanded and 
changed how businesses operate and how consumers engage in transactions with businesses and with 
each other. Computers are now ubiquitous and the economy relies on digital and internet technologies 
in ways that people could not have anticipated even a few years ago. The National Telecommunications 
and Information Administration (NTIA) reports that 75 percent of Americans reported using the internet 
in 2015 compared with only 44 percent in 2000.1 These technologies continue to change how people 
work, communicate, purchase goods and services, and perform everyday tasks. There is little doubt as 
to the importance of digital technology in American business and its role in fostering national economic 
growth and competitiveness.   Measuring the impact of the digital economy is essential for 
understanding the overall economy given the increasing reliance of businesses and consumers on digital 
products and services.   

Studying the impact of digitization on the economy is not a new idea. The Bureau of Economic Analysis 
(BEA), other agencies in the Department of Commerce, and other organizations have been researching 
and publishing reports measuring the impact of the “digital economy,” the “internet economy,” or the 
“new economy” for nearly two decades. The Economics and Statistics Administration has reports on 
measuring the emerging digital economy as far back as 1998. In 2001, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a 
report citing the same rationale used by advocates of digital economy measurement today. In 2016, the 
U.S. Department of Commerce formed the inaugural Digital Economy Board of Advisors (DEBA) made up 
of distinguished leaders from industry and academia. The DEBA members bring a wide range of 
experience and knowledge on the digital economy and how it relates to businesses and economic policy. 
In their first report, the DEBA recommended developing measures of the impact of digitization on 
economic indicators such as GDP and productivity, as well as the extent of digitization across various 
sectors of the economy.2  
This report offers BEA’s first digital economy estimates within the framework of the national accounts. 
These new statistics provide a deeper understanding of the size and economic importance of the digital 
economy so that policymakers, businesses, and other stakeholders can make informed decisions. They 
identify and highlight digital activities that are currently embedded in BEA’s gross domestic product 
statistics. The data can be used by businesses, researchers and others. This report represents an 
important step toward BEA’s development of a digital economy satellite account.  
BEA’s initial estimates show that the digital economy has been a bright spot in the U.S. economy, 
growing at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent per year from 2006 to 2016 compared to 1.5 percent 
growth in the overall economy. The digital economy accounted for 6.5 percent ($1,209.2 billion) of 
current‐dollar GDP ($18,624.5 billion) in 2016. When compared with traditional U.S. industries or 
sectors, the digital economy ranked just below professional, scientific, and technical services, which 
 See the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Digital National Data Explorer at‐nation‐data‐explorer#sel=internetUser&disp=map.  
 See U.S. Department of Commerce. “First Report of the Digital Economy Board of Advisors.” (2016) Available at 

accounted for 7.1 percent ($1,326.3 billion) of current‐dollar GDP, and just above wholesale trade, 
which accounted for 5.9 percent ($1,102.6 billion) of current‐dollar GDP (chart 1).   
Chart 1. Digital Economy and Industry Share of Total Gross Domestic Product, 2016

    Real estate and rental and leasing
    Finance and insurance
    Health care and social assistance
    Professional, scientific, and technical services
  Digital economy
  Wholesale trade
  Retail trade
    Administrative and waste management services
  Transportation and warehousing
    Accommodation and food services
  Other services, except government
    Management of companies and enterprises
    Educational services
    Arts, entertainment, and recreation
  Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

0% 5% 10% 15%
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
That same year, the digital economy supported 5.9 million jobs, which accounted for 3.9 percent of total 
U.S. employment (150.3 million), similar to industries like finance and insurance, wholesale trade, and 
transportation and warehousing (chart 2).  Employees working in the digital economy earned $114,275 
in average annual compensation compared to $66,498 average annual compensation per worker for the 
total U.S. economy.  


Chart 2. Digital Economy and Industry Share of Total Employment, 2016

     Health care and social assistance
  Retail trade
   Accommodation and food services
     Administrative and waste management services
    Professional, scientific, and technical services
   Other services, except government
    Finance and insurance
  Wholesale trade
  Digital economy
  Transportation and warehousing
     Educational services
    Arts, entertainment, and recreation
   Management of companies and enterprises
    Real estate and rental and leasing
  Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

0% 2% 4% 6% 8% 10% 12% 14% 16% 18%

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
The remainder of this report comprises three sections.  The first section discusses the estimation 
methodology in more detail. The second section presents preliminary digital economy estimates. The 
report concludes by noting potential areas for research to advance measurement of the digital economy 
toward the construction of a comprehensive satellite account.  

BEA prepared these statistics within the supply‐use framework, following methodology used in the 
production of other BEA satellite accounts, including those on travel and tourism, arts and cultural 
production, and outdoor recreation.3  
The estimation process includes three main steps:  
(1)  Develop a conceptual definition of the digital economy;  
(2)  Identify goods and services within the supply‐use framework relevant for measuring the digital 
economy defined in the first step; and  
(3)  Use the supply‐use framework to identify the industries responsible for producing these goods 
and services, and estimate the output, value added, employment, compensation and other 
variables associated with this activity  
During the second step of this process, BEA reviewed the detailed goods and services categories from 
the supply‐use framework to identify those goods and services that are part of the digital economy.4  
Some goods and services categories include a mix of both digital and non‐digital goods and services. For 
example, the goods category electronic toys and games, including home video games (excluding 
cartridges, disks, and tapes) includes both digital video games and non‐digital electronic toys. 
Conceptually, measures of the digital economy should include digital video games; however, due to data 
and resource constraints, the estimates presented here include the goods and services categories that 
BEA considers primarily digital.  

(1) Define the digital economy 
Just as the idea of measuring the digital economy has been around for many years, so have the 
challenges associated with its measurement. One of the most fundamental challenges is the lack of a 
precise and universal definition that clarifies which activities should be included when measuring the 
digital economy. Part of what makes defining the digital economy difficult is the rapidly changing nature 
of technology. What is relevant one day might be obsolete the next as businesses and consumers adopt 
new technologies to perform tasks and communicate. Ideally, the definition of the digital economy 
would allow for the changing nature of what it encompasses over time.  
In this paper, BEA defines the digital economy primarily in terms of the Internet and related information 
and communications technologies (ICT). To develop a definition, BEA relied on analyst expertise and 
existing literature and statistics on the digital economy. BEA’s ICT sector served as a starting point for 

 For more information on the methodology and satellite accounts, see BEA’s “Measuring the Nation’s Economy: 
An Industry Perspective. A Primer on BEA’s Industry Accounts.” Available at The industry accounts are one component of the U.S.  
economic accounts that provide information on the value and composition of output produced in the United 
States and on the types of income generated by that production. The national accounting framework excludes 
goods and services provided at zero cost.  
 BEA classifies goods and services using a system based on the North American Industrial Classification System 

BEA’s definition of the digital economy.5 While not all ICT goods and services are fully in scope, the ICT 
sector and the digital economy largely overlap. The estimates presented in this report include BEA’s ICT 
sector as well as additional goods and services determined to be in scope for the digital economy.  As in 
the past when BEA developed statistics on the ICT sector, BEA referenced the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) digital economy measurement literature.6 BEA includes in its 
definition (1) the digital‐enabling infrastructure needed for a computer network to exist and operate, (2) 
the digital transactions that take place using that system (“e‐commerce”), and (3) the content that 
digital economy users create and access (“digital media”).  
Digital‐enabling infrastructure 
Computer networks, such as the internet, are the foundation of the digital economy. Digital‐enabling 
infrastructure is comprised of the basic physical materials and organizational arrangements that support 
the existence and use of computer networks and the digital economy, these include:  
 Computer hardware: The manufactured physical elements that constitute a computer system 
including, but not limited to, monitors, hard drives, semiconductors, wireless communications 
products, and audio and visual equipment products.  
 Software: The programs and other operating information used by devices such as personal 
computers and commercial servers, including both commercial software and software 
developed in‐house by firms for their own use. 
 Telecommunications equipment and services: The equipment and services required for the 
digital transmission of information over a distance by cable, telegraph, telephone, broadcasting, 
or satellite.  
 Structures: This includes the construction of buildings where digital economy producers create 
digital economy goods or supply digital economy services. The structures category also includes 
buildings that provide support services to digital products. This includes the construction of data 
centers, semiconductor fabrication plants, the installations of fiber optic cables, switches, 
repeaters, etc.  
 The Internet of Things (IoT): Internet‐enabled devices like appliances, machinery, and cars with 
embedded hardware allowing them to communicate with each other and connect to the 

 The BEA ICT sector consists of computer and electronic product manufacturing (excluding navigational, 
measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing); software publishers; broadcasting and 
telecommunications; data processing, hosting and related services; internet publishing and broadcasting and web 
search portals; and computer systems design and related services. BEA’s definition is generally consistent with the 
internationally accepted definition of the ICT sector used and developed by the statistical offices of the OECD and 
United Nations. 
 For information on the OECD’s digital economy measurement work, see 
BEA also participates in the OECD working group on Measuring GDP in a Digitalized Economy. 

 Support services: Services necessary for the function of digital infrastructure such as digital 
consulting services and computer repair services.  

BEA uses the term “e‐commerce” to describe, broadly, all purchases and sales of goods and services that 
occur over computer networks. E‐commerce reflects the nature of a transaction for goods or services. 
BEA considers e‐commerce to include digitally‐ordered, digitally‐delivered, or platform‐enabled 
transactions. These transactions include:  
 Business‐to‐business (B2B) e‐commerce: E‐commerce that utilizes the internet or other 
electronic means to conduct transactions of goods and services by businesses to other 
businesses. Manufacturers, wholesalers, and other industries engage in both interfirm and 
intrafirm e‐commerce to produce goods and services for final consumption.  
 Business‐to‐consumer (B2C) e‐commerce: E‐commerce that utilizes the Internet or other 
electronic means to conduct the sale of goods and services by businesses to consumers, or retail 
 Peer‐to‐peer (P2P) e‐commerce: The “sharing” economy, also known as platform‐enabled e‐
commerce, involves the exchange of goods and services between consumers facilitated through 
a digital application. These include, but are not limited to, ride dispatching, accommodation 
rentals, delivery and courier services, landscaping, food preparation, consumer goods rentals, 
laundry services, and janitorial services. 
Digital media 
The third component of the digital economy is digital media. Increasingly, consumers forgo the physical 
purchase or rental of products like books, newspapers, music, and videos, opting instead to access these 
products online in a digital format. BEA defines digital media as the content that people create, access, 
store, or view on digital devices, specifically:   
 Direct sale digital media: Businesses may sell digital products directly to consumers in exchange 
for a fee, either on an item‐by‐item basis or through a subscription service.  
 Free digital media: Some companies offer digital media to consumers at no cost, such as 
YouTube or Facebook. Typically, businesses offering these services earn revenue by selling 
advertising space on the margins of the digital product, like the model followed by many print 
media or broadcast television outlets. In addition, some consumers create original online 
content for peer consumption, known as P2P digital media. 
 Big data: Some companies generate large data sets as part of their normal operations. This could 
also include the use of digital media as a mechanism for gathering information about consumer 
behavior or preferences.  These companies may earn revenue by selling this information, 
sometimes referred to as “big data,” or leveraging it in other ways.  

(2) Identify digital economy goods and services 
Using this definition and the existing detailed data from the supply‐use tables, BEA identified goods and 
services for inclusion in the initial digital economy estimates. BEA classifies data in the supply‐use tables 
using a NAICS‐based framework that includes about 5,000 categories of goods and services.7  (See Box 
on BEA Methodology for Estimating Supply‐Use Tables).  BEA relied on analyst expertise and outside 
research to select over 200 goods and services categories for inclusion in the preliminary estimates 
presented in this report.8 The remainder of this section discusses some of the differences between the 
goods and services identified in the conceptual definition of the digital economy and the goods and 
services BEA included in the initial estimates.   
As noted in the introduction, some NAICS‐based goods and services categories include digital goods and 
services as well as non‐digital goods and services. While BEA’s conceptual definition of the digital 
economy includes all digital goods and services, BEA did not attempt to include the digital portion of 
those goods and services categories that include both digital and non‐digital components in the 
preliminary estimates, choosing instead to focus only on goods and services categories that are 
exclusively or primarily digital. Splitting the output of “partially‐digital” categories into digital and non‐
digital portions will require additional source data and other resources to accurately identify the share 
of output that is in scope for the digital economy, as will be discussed in the last section of this report.   
Following this approach, BEA included a near‐comprehensive list of digital economy hardware, software, 
support services, and telecommunications goods and services in the infrastructure portion of the digital 
economy estimates. BEA did not include structures and IoT infrastructure in the initial estimates 
because of the difficulty in determining the proper allocation of these categories into digital and non‐
digital components.  
For both structures and IoT infrastructure, BEA does not have data available to separate digital economy 
activity from all other activity.  The case of IoT infrastructure presents additional challenges.  For 
example, the connectivity of an internet‐enabled refrigerator may allow the owner to track and 
purchase food items when they are running low or record usage of the appliance. However, the primary 
function of the refrigerator is to keep food cold, output which BEA would not classify as being part of the 
digital economy. 
E‐commerce output is generally measured as the wholesale or retail trade margin on “digitally ordered” 
goods and services sold over the Internet or through some other electronic market. The margin is equal 
to total revenue earned from online sales less the producer cost of the goods and services. For this 
report, BEA included in the estimates the margins for both B2B wholesale and B2C retail transactions 
from electronic market establishments. BEA also included some non‐margin output in the form of fees 
for brokers that connect buyers and sellers. BEA did not explicitly include the value of P2P or “platform‐
enabled” transactions because of a lack of data on the value of these transactions. BEA captures in the 
supply‐use tables the value of P2P activities such as ride dispatching and accommodation, but it is 
unclear what value from these activities BEA should attribute to the digital economy. More information 

 At the time of this report, the 2007 benchmark tables contained the latest benchmark data available and used a 
commodity classification system based on the 2007 NAICS.  
 See Appendix Table. 

on the challenges of measuring the output of P2P transaction is included later in the section of this 
report on areas for future study. 
As mentioned above, digital media is the content that digital economy users create and access. From 
this category, the estimates in this report include data streaming services, internet publishing, and 
internet broadcasting. Streaming and download services includes both subscription‐based services that 
allow unlimited access to digital content as well as one‐time purchases of content, such as renting and 
streaming a single movie or purchasing one song for download. Internet publishing captures fees 
collected from consumers for access to digital content such as online newspapers or 
magazines.  Internet broadcasting captures fees consumers pay for subscriptions to internet radio, 
webcasts, or “simulcasts” where large televisions broadcasters simultaneously broadcast over the 
Internet. The estimates include internet publishing and broadcast licensing which is the revenue 
publishers receive by licensing use of their content to other platforms. For example, a website may host 
another publisher’s content. The hosting website may be required to pay a licensing fee to the original 
publisher for rights to host the content. 
Other websites offer free digital media to consumers but collect revenue through advertising. While 
BEA’s national accounts do capture this advertising revenue, the estimates in this report do not include 
this revenue. BEA currently does not have the data needed to identify what portion of advertising 
revenue is associated with these websites.   
  BEA Methodology for Estimating Supply‐Use Tables  
The supply‐use tables are an integral and essential element of the U.S. economic accounts. First, 
they are the building blocks for other economic accounts. Prominent among these are the BEA’s 
national income and product accounts (NIPAs), which feature the estimates of expenditure‐based 
GDP. Second, the supply‐use tables show how industries interact; specifically, they show how 
industries provide input to, and use output from, each other to produce GDP. They are a complete, 
balanced set of economic statistics, and they present a full accounting of industry and final‐use 
The core of the supply‐use tables consists of two basic national‐accounting tables—a “supply” table 
and a “use” table. The supply table shows the commodities that are available for domestic 
consumption. The use table shows the inputs to industry production (intermediate inputs) and the 
commodities that final users consume. The use table is the most frequently requested table 
because of its applications to the estimates of GDP. 
The BEA uses the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to classify industries. The 
United States, Canada, and Mexico jointly developed this classification system with the aim of 
improving the comparability of their economic statistics. NAICS classifies industries based on their 
production processes.  The NAICS codes comprise six digits, which reading from left to right, 
indicate the general sector down to a detailed industry. 
(continued on next page) 


BEA Methodology for Estimating Supply‐Use Tables (continued)  
The U.S. statistical system does not currently have a separate classification system for 
commodities, which are groups of similar products defined by the characteristics of the product 
(commodity) itself rather than by the production process. At present, BEA uses a commodity 
classification system to assign each commodity the code of the industry in which the commodity 
is the primary product. The foundation for this commodity classification system is the six‐digit 
NAICS code.  
BEA prepares benchmark supply‐use tables roughly every five years based on the highest quality 
source data, notably the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economic Censuses. Largely because of their rich 
source data, the benchmark supply‐use tables are the most important statistical source of 
information for comprehensive updates of the NIPAs and are widely used by other statistical 
agencies. BEA released the most recent benchmark supply‐use tables in 2015. These accounts 
cover 2007 and use the 2007 NAICS for classification.  At the time of this publication, BEA is 
preparing the 2012 benchmark and comprehensive update of the accounts using the 2012 NAICS, 
with a planned release date of late 2018.  

(3) Identify digital economy industries and prepare results 
BEA estimated nominal value added, output, compensation and employment by industry for the digital 
economy. After identifying the goods and services included in the digital economy, BEA identified the 
industries that produce those goods and services using the supply table.  Digital economy gross output 
by industry represents the total value of in‐scope gross output produced by each industry across all 
digital economy goods and services. Value added for the digital economy is derived from the 
relationship between the industry output for the digital economy and total industry output. This means 
the ratio of intermediate consumption associated with the industry output for the digital economy is 
assumed to be the same as the ratio of total industry intermediate consumption to total industry 
output. Compensation and employment for the digital economy are derived through the same 
procedure as value added. Specifically, the ratio of an industry’s digital economy output to total output 
is applied to total employment and compensation for the industry. 
BEA prepared price and quantity indexes for digital economy gross output and value added in three 
steps. First, gross output indexes are derived by deflating each digital good and service produced by an 
industry that is included as part of its gross output from the supply table. Second, BEA derived indexes 
for intermediate inputs by deflating all commodities from the use table that are consumed by the 
industry as intermediate inputs in the production of digital goods and services. Domestic and 
international sources of intermediate inputs are deflated separately by using the import proportionality, 
or comparability, assumption. Third, BEA calculated indexes for value added by industry using the 
double‐deflation method in which real value added is computed as the difference between real gross 
output and real intermediate inputs within a Fisher index‐number framework. 

Gross domestic product (GDP) or value added 
GDP is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods 
and services used up in production.  GDP by industry, or value added, is a measure of an industry’s 
contribution to overall GDP. According to the initial estimates, the digital economy was an engine of 
GDP growth throughout the period covered by these statistics. In 2016, digital economy real (inflation‐
adjusted) value added totaled $1,302.2 billion, 82.2 percent larger than it was in 2005. From 2006 to 
2016, real value added for the digital economy outpaced overall growth in the economy each year and 
mitigated the downturn in GDP during the recession in 2008 and 2009 (chart 3). In five of those years, 
including 2015 and 2016, the two most recent of the series, the digital economy grew over 6 percent.  
Chart 3. Digital Economy Real Value Added and Total Economy Real Gross 
Domestic Product: Percentage Change from Previous Year
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Digital economy Total economy

  U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis  
The relative strength of the real digital economy led it to consistently contribute more to economic 
growth than its share of the economy. For example, in 2016, the real digital economy’s growth of 6.6 
percent accounted for 28 percent, or 0.41 percentage point, of the total 1.5 percent growth in real GDP.  
From 2006 to 2016, the real digital economy grew at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent, while real 
GDP grew at just 1.5 percent (chart 4). Within the digital economy, hardware and the category of e‐
commerce and digital media grew faster than the other components, on average, at 11.8 percent and 
8.6 percent annually, respectively. Telecommunications grew the slowest of the components, on 
average averaging 3.6 percent per year. Overall, average annual growth in real value added of digital 
goods, at 9.1 percent, outpaced digital services at 5.0 percent.   
From 2005 to 2016, digital economy current‐dollar value added accounted for an average 6.2 percent of 
total U.S. current‐dollar GDP each year. In 2016, digital economy current‐dollar GDP totaled $1,209.2 
billion, or 6.5 percent of total U.S. current‐dollar GDP ($18,624.5 billion) (chart 5).   

Chart 4. Components of the Digital Economy:
Real Value Added Average Annual Growth, 2006–2016

Total economy
Digital economy
E‐Commerce & Digital Media
Support Services

0% 5% 10% 15%
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Chart 5. Digital Economy Current‐dollar Value Added (billions) and Share of 
Total Current‐dollar Gross Domestic Product (percentage)
$1,400 7%
$1,200 6%
$1,000 5%
$800 4%
$600 3%
$400 2%
$200 1%
$0 0%
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Value added Share of total gross domestic product

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

In 2016, digital‐enabling infrastructure, or the hardware, software, telecommunications and support 
services that allow the digital economy to exist, accounted for $1,072.6 billion (88.7 percent) of the total 
estimated $1,209.2 billion in digital economy current‐dollar value added. Digital economy support 
services totaled $362.2 billion (30.0 percent) of the total digital economy, telecommunications totaled 
$320.4 billion (26 percent), software totaled $258.8 billion (21.4 percent), and hardware totaled $131.3 
billion (10.9 percent) (chart 6). E‐commerce and digital media accounted for the remaining $136.5 billion 
(11.3 percent) of the total digital economy current‐dollar value added. Services dominated the digital 
economy, relative to goods, accounting for 87.5 percent of total digital economy current‐dollar value 

Chart 6. Components of the Digital Economy:
Current‐dollar Value Added Share of Total, 2016

Support Services



E‐Commerce & Digital Media


0% 10% 20% 30% 40%

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Gross output 
Gross output is a measure of sales or revenue from production for most industries. Real gross output for 
the digital economy grew at an annual rate of 4.4 percent from 2006 to 2016, faster than the total 
economy, which grew at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent over this period. The compound effect of 
the faster output growth in the digital economy relative to the overall economy is clearly seen when 
output is indexed to a base year (chart 7). Since 2010, digital economy real gross output growth 
averaged 4.9 percent per year and outpaced average annual real gross output growth of 2.3 percent in 
the U.S. economy, overall, widening the distance between the gross output indexes displayed in chart 7.  

Chart 7. Real Gross Output Index (2005=100)
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Digital economy Total economy
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

During this economic recovery, prices for digital economy good and services decreased at an average 
annual rate of 0.4 percent (chart 8). Prices for all goods and services in the economy increased at an 
average annual rate of 1.5 percent.   

Chart 8. Gross Output Price Index (2005=100)




2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Digital economy Total economy
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Although real output in the digital economy accelerated faster than real output for the economy overall, 
the falling prices of digital goods and services caused current‐dollar gross output growth in the digital 
economy and the overall economy to be roughly equal until 2014 (chart 9). In 2015 and 2016, total 
economy current‐dollar gross output growth decelerated while growth in the digital economy 
accelerated slightly (from 4.3 percent average annual growth over the 2006 to 2014 period to 4.7 
percent from 2015 to 2016).  Digital economy nominal gross output reached $1.97 trillion in 2016, 
totaling 6.2 percent of total U.S. nominal gross output.   

Chart 9. Nominal Gross Output Index (2005=100)
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Digital economy Total economy
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Data Availability 
The entire time series of digital economy estimates (2005‐2016) are available on the digital 
economy page on BEA’s website. Data include real, current‐dollar, and price data for value added 
and gross output by industry and by commodity. Data are also available on digital economy 
employment and compensation by industry. 

Employment and compensation  
In 2016, the digital economy employed 5.9 million workers, representing 3.9 percent of total 
employment. Of all digital economy workers, 88.2 percent worked in service‐providing industries, most 
notably computer systems design and related services (1,870,000 employees), other retail (984,000 
employees, working primarily in e‐commerce), and broadcasting and telecommunications (869,000 
employees). On the goods‐producing side, the computer and electronic products manufacturing 
industry supported the most digital economy jobs (572,000). From 2011 to 2016, employment in the 
digital economy grew at an average annual rate of 3.7 percent compared to an average annual rate of 
1.7 percent for the overall economy (chart 10). 

Chart 10. Employment: Percentage Change from Previous Year
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Digital economy Total economy
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

In 2016, total compensation, including wages and benefits, for these workers was $674.0 billion, or 6.8 
percent of total industry compensation. Workers in the digital economy earned average annual 
compensation of $114,275 compared to the economy‐wide average of $66,498. 

Potential areas for future study 

The current digital economy estimates provide insight into the impact of the digital economy on the 
overall U.S. economy. However, there are opportunities for BEA to expand these statistics into a 
comprehensive digital economy satellite account to reflect more completely the digital economy’s 
contribution to economic growth. Potential areas for future study, discussed briefly below, are: 

 Including additional digital goods and services;
 Incorporating updated statistical classifications, methodologies, and source data;
 Accurately measuring P2P transactions;
 Accounting for digital inputs to production; and
 Estimating the consumer surplus related to the digital economy.

Including additional digital goods and services  
BEA would like to expand these estimates to include the value of the digital economy goods and services 
from those goods and services categories that include a mix of digital and non‐digital components. For 
some categories, dividing output into digital and non‐digital segments may be especially challenging due 
to a lack of source data or because research remains to be done regarding how to value connectivity or 
other digital features of a good or service. BEA may also need data to split the value of goods and 
services categories between different digital economy categories. Furthermore, the weights may vary 
from year‐to‐year for some goods and services categories because of the rapid pace of technological 
advancement in the digital economy.  

Incorporating updated statistical classifications, methodologies, and source data 
The rapid advancement of digital technology poses other challenges as well.  The digital economy is 
evolving faster than U.S. and international statistical classification standards, methodologies, and source 
data. For example, the estimates in this report use BEA's 2007 benchmark tables and the 2007 NAICS 
classification system, which means that BEA estimates may not fully reflect the current state of the 
digital economy. This challenge may compound as technology continues to advance.  

Additionally, the pace of technological change poses challenges for pricing digital economy goods and 
services. The statistical community has extensively commented and researched the issue of price change 
for digital products. BEA is actively engaged in research on this topic and continues to explore new data 
sources to measure accurately price changes for digital economy estimates and other BEA measures. 
BEA will continue to update the estimates using new classifications, methodologies, and data as they 
become available and as resources permit. 

 Accurately measuring P2P transactions  
There are other challenges to properly measuring P2P e‐commerce’s contribution to the economy 
beyond the difficulty in separating out the value attributable to the digital economy.  In the sharing 
economy, consumers rent their private goods and services to other consumers. Consumers’ rental of 
their private goods, such as cars for ride‐dispatching services and homes for lodging, raises questions as 
to how BEA should treat certain consumer durables and whether to consider them as goods strictly for 

final use consumption.9 P2P transactions blur the boundary between producers and consumers and call 
into question how to split output from the digital economy among the standard NAICS industries.10  

Additionally, revenue sharing among business intermediaries and associated providers of goods and 
services may introduce measurement error. According to Airbnb, its earnings may be as low as 3 percent 
of any total transaction, meaning most of gross output flows to private individuals. This raises two 
potential measurement issues: (1) business intermediaries may differ in their reporting of revenue 
(gross revenue versus net revenue), and (2) operating costs and/or earnings of households may be 
misreported or unavailable. The presence of either issue would complicate efforts to measure P2P e‐

Accounting for digital inputs to production 
Digitalization has revolutionized how businesses produce, market, sell and disseminate goods and 
services. Businesses increasingly employ digital inputs to drive key production activities including: online 
procurement of intermediate inputs, management of logistical systems, online or digital advertising, 
internal communication systems (Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP, online messaging, 
teleconferencing, etc.), and financial, operational and client management software. In the future, it may 
be possible for BEA to develop a new input category for digital inputs to production under the current 
KLEMS (K‐capital, L‐labor, E‐energy, M‐materials, and S‐purchased services) production framework.11  
Information on business use of digital inputs to production would likely be useful to BEA for weighting 
goods and services categories that include both digital and non‐digital components.   

Estimating consumer surplus 
This report does not measure changes in consumer surplus related to the consumption of digital 
economy goods and services. GDP measures the market value of the goods, services, and structures 
produced by the nation’s economy in a period. That is, it measures the amount that households, 
businesses, and governments spend on final goods and services.  These accounts do not measure 
consumer surplus, or the difference between what consumers are willing and able to pay for a good or 
service, and the price that they pay.  

In today’s economy, many services that in the past were available for purchase are now available free‐
of‐charge over the internet. For example, consumers can compare quickly and easily prices for flights or 
lodging using travel websites and apps rather than calling a travel agent or spending the time to call 
each airline and hotel. Even some goods have now turned into services. Instead of purchasing a CD or a 
DVD, digital media allows consumers to access or download content for free or for a fee. Wikipedia and 
Google have changed how people learn about the world and search for information.  Additionally, a 
single smart phone replaces a myriad of individual goods that consumers formerly individually 
purchased, such as a camera, a music player, a video game console, etc. There is great interest among 
digital economy stakeholders in determining the impact of these changes. In the future, BEA may 
explore ways to measure the impact the digital economy’s impact on consumer welfare. 

Digital goods and services have driven growth in GDP over the last decade.  BEA will continue to monitor 
the production and consumption of digital goods and services as the U.S. economy transforms with the 
digital age. The digital economy poses measurement challenges, some new and some old, to the 
traditional methods of calculating GDP and other economic measures.  BEA’s development of these 
initial estimates toward a digital economy satellite account is an important step forward in providing 
statistics showing the impact of the digital economy on the wider U.S. economy.   
 PWC, "The Sharing Economy", Consumer Intelligence Series. 
 See Ahmad and Schreyer, 11 
 For more on KLEMS, see  


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1 III CEO Summit of the Americas


• The digital economy is worth US $11.5 trillion global-

ly, equivalent to 15.5 percent of global GDP. By 2025,
the digital economy will be US $23 trillion globally, or
24.3%of global GDP.1
• Over the past three decades, every dollar invested in
dig-ital technologies added US $20 to GDP on
average, 6.7 times higher than non-digital investments
which added US $3 for every dollar invested.2
• By 2020, the worldwide public cloud services market
is projected to reach US $383 billion, up from US $209
bil-lion in 2016.3
• According to the latest UN ECLAC data, 46% of ICT
budgets in Latin America were allocated to cloud com-
puting in 2012, well above the global average of 34%.4

1 Huawei and Oxford Economics (2017), “Digital Spillover: Measuring the True Impact of
the Digital Economy” at
2 Idem.
3 Gartner (2017), Press Release “Gartner Says Worldwide Public Cloud Services Market to

Grow 18 Percent” at

4 UN ECLAC (2014), “Cloud Computing in Latin America: Current Situation and Policy

Analysis” at


The Digital Revolution, also known as the Fourth Industri-

al Revolution, is expected to exceed all previous economic
transformations in scale, scope, and complexity.5 Disruptive
technologies are evolving at an exponential pace and driving
growth in key industries such as finance, energy, transpor-
tation, education, health, and trade. As these technologies
become more accessible and affordable, they have the po-
tential to significantly impact growth, labor markets, and
income distribution.6

The Digital Economy is emerging in Latin America and

the Caribbean (LAC), and to ensure the region’s medium-
and long-term prosperity, countries need to be responsive
to the opportunities and risks associated with disruptive
technologies. Successfully adapting and harnessing their
transformative effects would pay long-term dividends in
the economy in terms of growth, innovation and social

Adaptation to the new digital economy will require sig-

nificant infrastructure upgrades and accommodation of
regulatory frameworks. While mobile broadband
penetra-tion is expected to reach 66% by 2025 in LAC
(61% globally), increasing inclusion and access to
digital infrastructure remains a key challenge.7
Meanwhile, adaptation of the regulatory environment lags
the dramatic pace of technological change.

5 Schwab, Klaus. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means and how to Respond.”
Foreign Affairs Magazine. December 2015.
6 Leipziger, Danny and Victoria Dodev (2016). “Disruptive Technologies and their Im-

plications for Economic Policy: Some Preliminary Observations.” at https://www2.gwu.

7 GSMA. The Mobile Economy 2018.

3 III CEO Summit of the Americas

This paper addresses five disruptive technologies that

are driving massive economic transformation and that
will be critical areas for public policy formulation and
implemen-tation in the region in the years ahead:
cloud computing, blockchain, big data, artificial
intelligence and the internet of things.


1. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been one of the most disruptive

technological trends of the last decade. It has been a game
changer for the way governments, businesses and consum-
ers buy and maintain their ICT infrastructure. Governments
and businesses are shifting from hosting their own data cen-
ters to having other companies handle it for them, enabling
them to focus on their core competencies while also
reduc-ing their carbon footprint. As a result, cloud
computing has democratized access to computing
power and advanced technologies that were previously
reserved for big companies with deep pockets, reducing
long-standing barriers to market entry, and thus helping
enable the proliferation of start-ups and the growth and
competitiveness of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

To illustrate the potential impact: Deloitte estimates that

between 2010 and 2015, in the five largest countries of
the European Union, the adoption of cloud computing
has generated an impact of € 763 billion on the
economy, and the creation of direct and indirect jobs
totaling 2.3 million.8

Cloud computing is also paving the way for new disruptive

applications as it enables the deployment of other
digital technologies, such as big data analytics, artificial
intelligence, and blockchain, that in turn underpin
innovative and disruptive business models. Exemplary
and well-known business models of the new digital
economy that have been enabled by cloud computing

8European Commission (2017), “Measuring the Economic Impact of Cloud Computing in

Europe” at
5 III CEO Summit of the Americas

include: Uber, Airbnb, Ama-zon, Facebook, and

MercadoLibre, among many others.

The direct and indirect benefits of cloud computing can be

summarized into three areas: 1) economic competitiveness
and sustainability; 2) increased speed of enterprise scale-up
and greater potential quantity, quality and value of services;
and 3) savings in public and private spending on server in-
frastructure and management time which can be reinvested
in core competencies and augmenting technologies.

2. Blockchain

Blockchain is an emerging technology that has the poten-

tial to revolutionize business, government and the whole
economy, transforming how contracts and transactions
are recorded in an increasingly digital and inter-connected
world. Blockchain is a database distributed through multiple
nodes that make up a network where every record of every
transaction is recorded. The innovative element is that the
data is grouped in blocks that are continuously linked lin-
early with each other, ensuring the integrity of the previous
blocks using cryptographic techniques. In addition, before
being added to the chain, each new block is validated auto-
matically and in real time by all the integrating nodes that
are part of the distributed process. Thus, by intrinsic
de-sign, the technology prevents the subsequent
manipulation of data stored in the blocks of the chain,
guaranteeing its immutability.

Global spending on blockchain solutions is expected to con-

tinue at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of
81.2% through 2021, when revenues will be over US $9.2
billion.9 Compared to other regions, Latin America will
experience the fastest growth in spending with a five-
year CAGR of 152.5% from 2016 to 2021.
9IDC (2017), New IDC Spending Guide Sees Worldwide Blockchain Spending Growing to
$9.2 Billion in 2021, at

Meanwhile, the global block-chain market is estimated to

grow from US $210.2 million in 2016 to US $2.3 billion by
2021, at a CAGR of 61.5%11

Beyond the technological and economic impacts, block-

chain is expected to transform the way the public and private
sectors do business. For example, in the financial sector,
blockchain could help eliminate intermediaries such as bro-
kers or approval processes. In commerce, the technology
allows a simple and scalable integration of digital systems
from different organizations into a common database. In
government, blockchain has the potential to increase the
transparency of governmental processes, enhancing the ver-
ifiability and auditability of government transactions and
reducing the possibility of corruption by ensuring the im-
mutability of data. The sharing of government data with the
public, as well as the disclosure of its complete history, fa-
cilitates the verifiability and auditability of transactions. For
example, in public procurement, the technology makes it
possible to ensure that the procurement process complies
with legal requirements, preventing data such as selection
criteria or prices delivered by bidders from being
manipulat-ed later, thus reducing the possibility of

3. Big Data
The amount of data being generated in the world has
ex-ploded in recent years and it is expected to continue
its exponential growth in the foreseeable future. After
years of being considered an emerging technology, big data
has finally hit the mainstream and has become one of the
key pillars enabling digital transformation efforts across
public and private sectors globally.
11Research and Markets (2017), Blockchain Market to Grow at a CAGR of 61.5% by 2021
– Analysis by Provider, Application, Organization Size, Vertical & Region – Research
and Markets, at
Market- Grow-CAGR-61.5–2021--.
7 III CEO Summit of the Americas

Big data is characterized by a high volume (massive amounts

of data), velocity (high speed of information generation and
flow) and/or variety (mixing of different ty pes of da ta—
structured, unstructured, semi-structured). It may also be
characterized by high variability (inconsistent data flows
with periodic peaks) and complexity (difficulty to li nk,
match, cleanse and transform data).

On a daily basis, governments generate and collect a large

volume of data, such as through their tax collection systems,
managing national health systems, pensions and subsidy
payments, recording traffic data, among other activities.12 By
linking existing data sources from different authorities and
analyzing possible correlations, patterns, and trends in data,
governments can not only gain insight into how to improve
the delivery of citizen services, but also how to enhance the
fairness of public policy by improving enforcement of the
law. For example, in taxation, big data and analytical
tools could help to reduce tax evasion and fraud by
detecting sus-picious patterns in financial data.

In the private sector, big data and analytics helps enterpris-

es enhance their productivity and boost sales, and drives the
creation of new business models. By combining data from
internal as well as external sources and applying big data
and analytical techniques, enterprises are better equipped to
monitor, manage, diagnose, predict, and optimize their per-
formance. For example, in talent management, big data
and analytical tools help enterprises measure the impact
of performance incentives.

Worldwide commercial purchases of big data and analyt-

ics-related hardware, software, and services are expected to
maintain a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9%
through 2020 when revenues will be more than $210 billion,

12Munné R. (2016) Big Data in the Public Sector. In: Cavanillas J., Curry E., Wahlster W.
(eds) New Horizons for a Data-Driven Economy. Springer, Cham.

according to forecasts by the International Data Corpora-

tion (IDC). Compared to other regions, Latin America and
the Caribbean will experience the fastest growth in spend-
ing with a five-year CAGR of 16.2% from 2015 to 2020.13
The big data market is expected to grow from US $28.65 bil-
lion in 2016 to US $66.79 billion by 2021, at a high CAGR
of 18.45%.14

To capture the full potential of big data in Latin America

and the Caribbean, several issues will have to be addressed.
At the government level, regulatory frameworks and poli-
cies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and
even liability need to be considered to ensure that rights of
individuals as well as companies are protected. At the or-
ganizational level, not only must the right technology and
talent be put in place, but the organizational environment
must also be optimized for the use of big data.

4. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be characterized as com-

puterized systems that have been designed to interact with
the world by emulating human capabilities and intelligence
behaviors such as visual perception, speech recognition, in-
formation assessment and action decisions. AI’s expanded
capabilities have been driven by three factors: the availability
of big data, improved machine learning and algorithms, and
more powerful computers.15 Specific examples of applied
“Narrow AI” include simulated strategic games, automated

13 IDC (2017), Big Data and Business Analytics Revenues Forecast to Reach $150.8 Billion
This Year, Led by Banking and Manufacturing Investments, According to IDC, at www.idc.
14 Markets and Markets (2017), Big Data Market by Component (Software and Services),

Type (Structured, Semi-Structured and Unstructured), Deployment Model, Vertical, and

Region (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America & Middle East and Africa) –
Global Forecast to 2021, at
15 Executive Office of the US President, National Science and Technology Council (2016),

“Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” at

9 III CEO Summit of the Americas

language translation, image recognition, self-driving cars,

facial recognition, and robotics in manufacturing, among

The ability of AI tools to automate processes depends

on five key considerations: 1) understanding the nature
of the problem that is being resolved, i.e. understanding
whether predictions or causal inferences must be made to
solve a problem; 2) considering the types of data required
to address the problem; 3) ensuring the availability of
large volumes of training data that will allow the
algorithms to develop their predictive capacities prior to
deployment; 4) evaluating the quality of the data that is
integrated across the relevant data-bases; and 5) protecting
AI tools from hackers by designing systems and data flow
processes that have built-in privacy safeguards.17

Although research indicates that only five percent of oc-

cupations can be completely automated using
current technology, almost all occupations will undergo
some type of change.18 For LAC, however, the estimate is
that 50 percent of jobs can be automated since they are
concentrated in labor-intensive manufacturing, natural
resource extraction, and medium-skill administrative
services.19 It is imperative that the public and private
sectors in LAC work together to address these labor
market shifts in a way that promotes expansion of the
digital economy and innovation, while ensuring

16 Idem.
17 Brookings Institute (2017), Kevin C. Desouza, Rashmi Krishnamurthy, and Gregory S.
Dawson, “Learning from Public Sector Experimentation with Artificial Intelligence” at
18 McKinsey Global Institute (2017), “Where will Latin America’s Growth Come From?” at www.
19 IDB (2017), Integration and Trade Journal: Volume 21: No. 42: August 2017: “Robot-lu-

ción: The Future of Work in Latin American Integration 4.0” at


inclusive economic development for those vulnerable to

such changes.

5. Internet of Things

With broadband internet penetration rapidly increasing,

connection costs decreasing, and Wi-Fi application ex-
panding, it is becoming easier to connect any device to the
internet. These include watches, cellphones, headphones,
cars, and the possibilities are endless. Soon, hundreds of bil-
lions of connected devices will extend the digital economy
to every sector, disrupting existing business processes and
models. International Data Corporation envisions a trajec-
tory from less than 20 billion devices today, to 30 billion in
2020, to 80 billion in 2025; and by 2025, there will be 152,200
new connected devices every minute.20

Worldwide Internet of Things (IoT) spending is expected to

sustain a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.4%
through the 2017–2021 forecast period, surpassing the US
$1 trillion mark in 2020 and reaching US $1.1 trillion in
2021. Latin America is expected to achieve the fastest over-
all growth in IoT spending among all geographic regions,
with an estimated five-year CAGR of 28.3%.21 The IoT mar-
ket is expected to grow from US $170.57 billion in 2017 to
US $561.04 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 26.9%.22

In the public sector, IoT could help society and improve

governance by increasing the efficiency of public service

20 Forbes (2016), IoT Mid-Year Update From IDC And Other Research Firms, at www.
21 International Data Corporation (2017), IDC Forecasts Worldwide Spending on the In-

ternet of Things to Reach $772 Billion in 2018, at

22 Markets and Markets (2017), Internet of Things (IoT) Market by Software Solution

(Real-Time Streaming Analytics, Security Solution, Data Management, Remote Moni-

toring, and Network Bandwidth Management), Service, Platform, Application Area, and
Region – Global Forecast to 2022, at
11 III CEO Summit of the Americas

provision. By using the sensor data gathered by IoT-

enabled devices such as smart meters and traffic lights,
governments gain insights into citizens’ needs and are
enabled to imple-ment changes quickly and effectively.
For example, in public transport, using data from
distributed GPS tracking devices could enable real-time
monitoring of buses and provide pas-sengers with better
information on wait times.

In the private sector, IoT has the potential to improve

the operational efficiency of businesses by reducing costs
and generating new revenue. For example, in the
agricultural sector, a network of sensors distributed over
the field could help monitor temperature and humidity
levels and control irrigation systems. In the area of
logistics, sensors could help monitor the usage and
condition of fleets and inform refueling and maintenance
decisions. In health care, networks of various sensors offer
the capability to monitor patients’ behaviors and
symptoms in real time and at relatively low cost, enabling
physicians to make better diagnoses.

Though the future of IoT is promising and its potential

benefits numerous, the speed of its adoption in LAC
depends on the availability of adequate infrastructure
platforms as well as the development of suitable legal
and regulatory frameworks.


To leverage the benefits of these new technological develop-

ments and unleash the full potential of the digital economy,
the private sector and governments in LAC need to join
forces to develop an enabling digital ecosystem which ad-
dresses several key areas, including:

1. Increasing private investment, especially in

connectivity infrastructure that allows for equitable
2. Designing appropriate regulatory frameworks that
provide incentives for innovation and mitigate
unintended consequences;
3. Investing in human capital to ensure availability of
the skills required to scale these new technologies and
pave a smooth transition for those switching from
automated or legacy technology jobs to new economy
4. Adjusting public procurement systems and processes;
5. Leveraging disruptive technologies to develop locally
relevant and useful content and applications for users;
6. Supporting innovative startups from incubation
through scale-up.